HOPES were high when we booked a Saturday evening meal at The Blue Bell Inn at Stanley.

Previous reviewers spoke well of it and from talking to people who have been there it seemed it had a reputation as somewhere ‘foodies’ would enjoy.

It was taken over by new owners in March, by the same team behind The Kings Head at Lanchester and The Jolly Drovers at Leadgate.

Having eaten at both of these pubs recently myself I felt confident my better half and I were in for a treat.

So with a baby sitter in place it was with anticipation of something special we set off for Stanley.

The menu is not available online, but glancing at the menu of the other pubs I had a rough idea of what to expect: traditional/modern European done well.

The dining room was busy when we walked in a little after seven, which is a good sign and shows The Blue Bell remains popular following the takeover.

We were welcomed with little enthusiasm by staff, who showed us a seat in the conservatory, and asked if we want ‘some drinks or something’ before we had managed to sit at the table.

Braced with a pint of lager shandy and a medium glass of white wine, should have been a small one, we started looking at the menu.

The starters, I thought, looked a bit unappetising, garlic bread, chicken goujons, prawn cocktails, soup, all fairly standard, I know, but nothing with any real ‘oomph’, except perhaps the black pudding tower, which I didn’t fancy.

Lis decided to save herself for the main event but I went for the breaded garlic mushrooms (£3.95) which were served with a salad of a single curly lettuce leaf, two halved cherry tomatoes and a couple of slices of cucumber with garlic mayo.

The mushrooms were rock hard and so incredibly greasy inside I was unable to finish them.

The plate was taken away half eaten by a young waitress without a word, which given the fact there was so much left might have asked whether everything was ‘ok’.

We waited for then what seemed like an age, but was probably about 25 minutes for the mains to arrive.

Lis had chosen the vegetarian fajitas, mushrooms, peppers, and onions cooked in spices on a sizzling hot platter with tortilla wraps, cheese and soured cream.

She was quite happy with her choice and remarked about the good range of meat-free options, which as well as the usual fish dishes, included a mushroom stroganoff among others.

I had gone for the BBQ steak sizzler (£8.95) a piece of rump with bacon and Monterey Jack cheese, barbecue sauce and chips.

It was also served on a sizzling platter, which while common sense dictates you do not touch, should come with a warning, or at least a word of introduction, instead of being plonked unceremoniously in front of you as they were.

Due to the bacon and cheese, it was tasty enough but the steak was too tough and the onions and mushroom, which were swimming in oil, continued cooking on the platter, with a lot of them burnt and charred.

The best part of the dish was the chips, which were cooked to perfection, chunky and an ideal accompaniment to a far from enjoyable main event.

Having heard fellow diners asking, we knew the chocolate fondant, one of the cheesecakes and the crème brulee were all off, which left dessert options limited.

I ordered a piece of New York cheesecake, which arrived without the advertised raspberry coulis and with, staggeringly, four scoops of ice cream.

Sadly, once again, this was a disappointment.

The cheesecake was stodgy with a dry base and tasted like it had been frozen and the mountain of ice cream was ‘neither n’owt nor summat’ to use a Yorkshire phrase.

It is with a heavy heart I write such a negative review, but one thing we have do here is be honest and unfortunately, despite the very attractive contemporary decor, this visit was let down by the food I tried.

And while it was busy, it wasn’t rammed, but the staff, appeared completely disinterested, which could be down to the youth and inexperience of the young waitresses.

I don’t wish to be unfair, but had they been a touch friendlier and more attentive, it would have made all of the difference.

I cannot recall a single smile or welcoming word.

It has only been three months since the owners took over so this might be down to them still finding their feet.

It is a lovely venue and clearly still popular in the Stanley area.

I hope they do.

FOOD FACTS

The Blue Bell Inn

Beamish Burn Road

Stanley

Kip Hill

Stanley

DH9 0LR

01207-232163

bluebellinnstanley.co.uk

Opening Times for Meals: Mon-Thu 12 pm-2pm and 6pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 12 pm - 9.30 pm, Sun 12pm-9.30pm.

Ratings (out of ten): Food: 5 /10, Service: 6 /10, Value: 7/10, Surroundings: 8 /10